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New owner Joe Mansueto hopes to build exposure for Fire

A soccer-specific stadium isn’t the focus for Mansueto, who expects a lot of outlets to bid for the Fire’s broadcast rights when the ESPN+ deal ends after the 2020 season.

Joe Mansueto took control of the Fire on Friday.
Via the Fire

New Fire owner Joe Mansueto said Monday he is focusing on making the game-day experience at Soldier Field as strong as possible. Finding a soccer-specific stadium isn’t his priority.

‘‘The focus is Soldier Field,’’ Mansueto said during an interview with the Sun-Times. ‘‘The focus is not [to] start looking for another stadium. One at a time.’’

A primary reason for the Fire’s move from SeatGeek Stadium to Soldier Field is increased exposure. Mansueto said he has high hopes for the new home.

‘‘To me, the ideal situation is we’ve got 62,000 fans in Soldier Field, and it’s a great experience,’’ he said. ‘‘I’d rather have more people exposed to the team than fewer.’’

Another way to increase exposure is to put more games on traditional TV, as Mansueto knows from growing up in Munster, Indiana, and watching the Cubs on WGN-Ch. 9.

The Fire’s local broadcasts have been exclusively on ESPN+, a digital subscription service, since last year. That deal runs out after the 2020 season, and Mansueto said he expects a lot of media outlets to bid for Fire games when it lapses.

‘‘It’s how you get hooked on a team, that broad exposure, and I think the Fire have a great product,’’ Mansueto said. ‘‘Just more people need to see it. You start watching this team, it’s infectious. It’s a wonderful sporting experience. More people need to see it. A great way to see it is on free broadcast or cable.’’

Mansueto is ready to make it easier for more people to watch. When asked whether it was possible to tweak the current deal to allow for traditional broadcasts sooner, Mansueto said he has asked the team to find out.

‘‘I’d love to see it more widely available, see it in bars,’’ Mansueto said. ‘‘See people who maybe can’t get to the stadium but expose them to the product and make them big Fire fans.’’

Mansueto has other decisions to make, too. Though he wouldn’t disclose what the team will be called, Mansueto said he loves the Fire name and what it represents.

As for the futures of general manager Nelson Rodriguez and coach Veljko Paunovic, Mansueto said he would take stock of that in the offseason.

‘‘I believe in both of these guys.’’ he said.